AV tech makes headway
Educational institutions, especially in the higher learning environment, are beginning to adopt audiovisual and room management technologies to improve teaching. In most cases, however, educators are still far from using these tools to their full potential.
This is according to Derek Olivier, co-founder of video conferencing and automation company 4ward-design, who says these technologies can help schools transition from basic chalkboards to interactive smart boards, and eliminate hours wasted on equipment set-up and repair by creating automated lecture theatres.
“Any person in a meeting or class usually wants to be able to take something away from that meeting. The great thing about interactive smart boards is that you can save and post the presentation in the original format it was presented in.”
Olivier adds that one of the biggest challenges in education is to cater to everyone in the group. “If you bring in a device like the smart board, you bring in an opportunity for interaction - a child who may be shy normally can now participate via their mobile phone. The teacher can also make use of real-time reporting tools to determine very quickly whether students really understand what is being taught, and can then decide how to respond,” he says.
There are limitations, however, and these kinds of tools remain a luxury for the majority of schools in SA, admits Olivier. “Technology is expensive - some of these boards can cost R30 000 to R40 000 - and while they're good technologies, many schools in SA don't even have proper classrooms.”
Uptake has been slow, says Olivier, but he adds that an increasing number of institutions are showing interest. “They are definitely starting to implement solutions - but not yet to their full potential.”
Apart from cost constraints, teacher training is another area leading to slow and limited adoption. “Like any technology, everyone is initially afraid of it and concerned about the changes it will bring,” notes Olivier. “It's all about training upfront - get the technology and get the teachers used to the technology so they understand it.”
Working the room
In addition to aiding teachers in terms of content and presentation, technology can also help save energy, waste and expenses, says Olivier. ”Take a data projector, for example. Say the last lecturer of the day forgot to switch the projector off when they left. There are only a certain number of hours on the lamp, and they generally aren't designed to run for more than 24 hours. So when the next lecturer comes the following day, the lamp is out.”
New technologies, as well as managing equipment more effectively, can help prevent these situations, says Olivier. 4ward-design offers a range of Condeco meeting room booking systems, which it says can help higher education institutions increase room usage, realise budgetary savings and reduce administrative overheads.
“The Condeco solution is used to manage occupancy, by booking seats without having to install intimidating and intrinsic software.Facility managers can now easily monitor numerous rooms, as well as their respective equipment, simultaneously, from a central remote location.
“Universities don't spend a lot on technology and think they're saving money,” says Olivier. “However, while more proactive tools like room management require a bit of an investment in the beginning, they bring massive savings in the long term.”
Rising electricity costs and concerns over carbon emissions have also made energy consumption an important consideration for educational institutions, adds Olivier. “Energy control is a vital factor in design. The equipment we install, such as our amplifiers, is green star rated, not only consuming less energy but occupying less space as well.” This benefits higher learning institutions, as additional space means more seats in the lecture theatres, he adds.
While AV and room management solutions have proved popular with corporates, the education sector has been less enthusiastic, says Olivier. “They're slowly coming onboard. We've been implementing solutions at a few flagship venues and running pilot projects.” 4ward-design is in the process of installing a Condeco room management system at Stellenbosch University, with the brief being to equip all workspace facilities in the library and information service department with an online room booking system. Integrated digital room signage will enable students and researchers to interact directly with the system to determine workspace availability.
Olivier believes the generational shift to technology as a way of life is driving change in learning environments as well. “If you look at the lecturers themselves, the older generation is used to slide projectors - it's how they grew up. But developments like the rise of Apple and the iPad are changing people's minds about technology. We've seen a massive shift in the market and it is likely to continue in future.”